As a part of my media invitation to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta I was provided with this balloon ride. Thanks so much to Wind Dancer Balloon Promotions and the Balloon Fiesta for making it possible.
Bucket List. It’s a thing now. Everybody’s got one. You know, all those things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”, which often include things that might cause you to actually “kick” said “bucket” in the process. I think the concept has been around forever but only in somewhat recent years has it had a name.
Sure, I have one. Maybe not written down or even labeled, but in my head. Things like, see the Eiffel Tower, ride a gondola down a river in Venice, go surfing on the North Shore of Hawaii (Ok, that was when I was younger, now I’d probably just watch), cruise to Alaska. I’ve had the privilege to do many of the things I’ve wanted to do…see the Grand Canyon, go snorkeling, take my children on a cross-country trip, travel to a foreign country.
But, one thing that has NEVER EVER been on my Bucket List is to ride in a hot air balloon. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good hot air balloon as much as the next person…just check out Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta….but I’ve never had any desire to actually go up in one. You see, I’m afraid of heights….like really afraid! I don’t ride tall rides, I don’t stand on the edge of cliffs, I don’t climb ladders over about 6 ft tall (even then staying on the lowest rung possible)…. I just don’t like heights!
When I was notified that I would be attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I was told that media rides would be provided on a first come, first served basis. Now, as cool as that sounds, I knew that left up to me, I would NOT be one of those first to come.
However, on this Mother-Son Road Trip I happen to be traveling with one of my most …shall we say, adventurous children. And although he also has a fear of heights, his quest for adventure pretty much over-rides ANY fear he may have. So, I knew I needed to try to be one of those first come.
When we arrived Saturday morning (the first day of the fiesta) most of the spots were taken by the bigger media outlets…you know, NBC, CNN…those guys. But on Sunday morning as soon as they opened the doors, I went straight for the sign-up table and we were #4 and #5. Asked to star the name of the person of priority if only one of us could be taken… I “sacrificially” starred my son’s name.
Honestly, I knew he REALLY wanted to go and I REALLY wanted him to be able to go. I also knew, it would be an incredible experience to share with him. So, I prayed. I asked God to make it possible for us to go together and give me the courage to actually get in the basket.
Sure enough….just after 6:30 AM they called our names! Both of us! My son was thrilled! He was ready to go! All I could ask was, “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” I know, LOL! but true.
Many of the balloon rides were being provided by the company Rainbow Ryder. They have large baskets and several people go on each ride. “Maybe we’ll get in one of those,” I thought…you know, safety in number…or something?
But, no. We were placed with Ken Walter, the pilot-owner of Wind Dancer Balloons for a private ride! (Which, in the end, I was happy about) Just Ken, my son and me. We had seen Ken the morning before. Two things caught our attention…first, his beautiful balloon and second the Packers flag. See he’s from Wisconsin. Like all good “Wisconsins” he’s a Packers fan and proudly flies his Packers flag.
The balloon was so much bigger than it looks from a distance. It was a little difficult to take it all in. We were whisked out to the field where we had to sign more release forms…which of course, doesn’t make a nervous mama feel any better…especially having to co-sign with your son because he’s a minor. Nothing about that…”realize you are taking your life into your own hands” wording is ever comforting.
Ken’s family (wife and 3 boys) are a big part of his crew. As his wife handed me the papers to read and sign she asked if I was excited. I told her, honestly, I was more than a little nervous. She was so sweet. She said, “He’s a great pilot. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my husband…I trust him with my own kids.” I knew, if this mama could trust him with her children (although they were his, too) I could trust him.
Another thing she told me was, “there’s really no graceful way to get into a balloon”. And she was right! The baskets are tall and I am not. My son didn’t have any problem stepping right into it, I on the other hand I looked more like I was falling in….or out…. hard to tell which way I was going to end up.
As we took off, I was even more nervous. To see if the balloon has enough air to lift, the pilot jumps up and down a few time making it a little “bouncy” and unstable feeling. Thankfully, there were rope holds on the inside of the basket. It could be an understatement to say I had a “death grip” on the handles. My son, well, he was having quite a time!
I will say, after we were in the air, the ride was VERY smooth and the conditions PERFECT! You see, one reason Albuquerque has the largest balloon festival in the world is because of the often ideal conditions…. known as the “Albuquerque Box”..or just “The Box” by locals.
You know all those pictures you see of balloons in the air just “stacked” on top of each other? (like the one above) That’s “The Box”. It occurs when wind conditions are just right and as the balloons ascend they begin to fly in one directions but then they ascend to a higher altitude and the wind is blowing the opposite directions…so, they are carried back the other way…creating the “Box” effect. It really is spectacular to see and even more so to photograph from the air!
It was an awesome, once in a lifetime, thing to be a part of!
As we floated along, my nerves began to calm and I was able to enjoy the amazing view! Watching the sunrise over the mountains from a hot air balloon is an awesome experience!
Again, this was one of those things that words just don’t seem to be able to describe. So, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking…
Looking back just after take off
Balloons in the mist rising from the Rio Grande River
In the end, when it was time to land I found myself wishing it would last longer
And where exactly did we land?
Well, balloons can land anywhere as long as it’s away from power lines, ground obstructions and not inside fenced areas (because their chase crews can’t get to them).
You know, like a cul-de-sac. Yup, we landed right in a neighborhood in a cul-de-sac. How cool would that be, to have a balloon land right in front of your house?
Everyone came out to see the balloon and in true balloonist fashion…they talked to all the people, let them take pictures and even help pack up the balloon.
I have to say, riding in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done! If it’s something you’ve considered or it’s on your Bucket List, just do it!